Yesterday, Oregon Defensive Coordinator, Coach Nick Aliotti, announced his retirement making Monday’s Alamo Bowl his last game at Oregon. Though his announcement wasn’t a surprise to many, it sparked a wave of fan opinion- some positive and far too much negative. As they say, “Keep it Class, Oregon.”
Over the past several years, Oregon has become a newly respected college football powerhouse. Say what you will, but Aliotti has played a critical role in that success. Yes, there have been bumps in the road, especially last month, when Oregon’s defense struggled desperately to stop the run. For each of those rough games however, there are numerous defensive successes masterminded by Coach Aliotti. And even with those November defensive struggles, Aliotti’s defense tops the Pac 12 this season with points allowed per play- meaning the Ducks D held teams to the fewest points per play than any other team in the Pac.
Was it Aliotti’s time to go? Only if it was the best decision for him and his family. Had the pace of Oregon football and it’s system outgrown him? I don’t think so. It’s the same system that’s been running for years, including the 2010-2011 season culminating in a BCS National Championship appearance. Make no mistake, Aliotti’s tenure with Oregon was a successful one. For those celebrating in the streets and nicknaming him “Allowotti,” I challenge you to check the record books. I challenge you to take the reigns for just one day. What is missed in all the celebration and chatter is just how much intelligence and craft Aliotti’s position required. Not to mention the level of conditioning and unique physicality his recent defenses, in particular, required. With Oregon’s speedy spread offense, Aliotti’s flock had to spend a great deal of time on the field. That, in addition to the need for them to be both incredibly lean and fast, led to special challenges when facing the traditional big boy offensive lines. With that in mind, consider the recruiting nightmare and then consider the level of talent Aliotti brought to Oregon, mentored and sent off to NFL, including last year’s early round draft pick, Dion Jordan.
Is it all rainbows and sunshine? Of course not. I join many when I say I was a bit disappointed in the defensive performance this November. I headed to post practice interviews intent on hearing an explanation. Where were the adjustments? What was going on? Beneath those questions though, I had to remember a couple of things. First of all, Aliotti didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. He’s proven himself more than capable. Second of all, Aliotti wasn’t working with a fully experienced group. He lost at least three solid players to the NFL last year- Kiko Alonso, Michael Clay and Dion Jordan- three guys with rare talent. There were going to be growing pains. Sometimes the search for an explanation for why our beloved team struggled this November means finding a scapegoat. I get it. But in the midst of all the shoulda, woulda, coulda’s, the truth is usually much more complex than it seems.
I caution you to steer clear of celebrating Aliotti’s departure for the wrong reasons. His shoes will be tough to fill. A new Defensive Coordinator will not magically propel the Ducks to Natty. Honestly, it may set things back, even just slightly, as the new DC and newer head coach learn to work together. Instead, as Aliotti takes the field for a final time, celebrate his decades long dedication to Oregon football. Celebrate the loyalty he displayed as he delayed retiring to help Coach Helfrich settle in. Celebrate his love for the guys we have and will continue to support.
Thank you and best of luck Coach Aliotti. You will certainly be missed.